It’s been a long time since news publishers had reason to feel optimistic about a Facebook product. But the recent returns on Facebook News seem worth monitoring more closely.
Over the past few months, Facebook has expanded the number of publishers that can distinguish between Facebook News referral traffic and newsfeed referral traffic. And a growing number is seeing evidence that Facebook News, which launched broadly in the U.S. as a program that compensates many participating publishers for their coverage, has traction with at least a pocket of the platform’s gargantuan user base.
One publisher said its Facebook News referral traffic has been increasing for five consecutive months. A source at a second publisher said the share of referral traffic coming from Facebook News is 30% higher in 2021 than it was on Election Day. A third said Facebook News now accounts for 50% of its Facebook referral traffic.
Many of these growth stats come from a small base — the first two sources said Facebook News still accounts for less than 10% of their Facebook referral traffic; the third source said Facebook, as a whole, accounts for less than 10% of their traffic overall. But the pace of the growth, especially after a topsy turvy 2020, signals to some that Facebook News might, at the very least, not be a dud. Facebook initially did not have any way to differentiate Facebook News’s referral traffic; it worked out a solution in 2020 and began to roll it out slowly over the second half of the year.
“I would anticipate we’ll see that Facebook News percentage increase and potentially lift overall referral traffic at some point,” said a source at a fourth publisher, which currently gets close to 20% of its Facebook referral traffic from Facebook News. “Assuming Facebook prioritizes responsible news producers in the months ahead.”
Facebook News’s growth comes at a moment when Facebook is trying to minimize the presence of news and politics in the newsfeed.
Last fall, Facebook began telling publishers, if not in so many words, that there would be less political, news-y content in its newsfeed (in October, a Facebook executive told several TV networks’ digital executives that an effort to “make Facebook fun again” was underway); on Feb. 10, Facebook formally announced that users would see fewer political items in their newsfeeds.
That continued a trend that several publishers had begun to feel dating back to the fall, when the feverish end of the presidential election season crowded out lots of non-Trump, non-pandemic content.
That crowding out was especially pronounced among local news publishers. An executive at one local news publisher participating in Facebook News said that Facebook referral traffic overall plunged close to 50% in the second half of 2020. That source is bracing for another few months of significant year over year declines, as their monthly referral totals will be compared against what the enormous spikes in traffic most publishers got in the early days of the pandemic.
“I’ve got some really worried people [asking what’s going on],” that source said. “And every time I ask [Facebook] what’s going on, they’re just not forthcoming.”
To be sure, looking at Facebook News’s share of referral traffic overall obscures the reality that, for some publishers, Facebook represents a declining source of referral traffic overall. The fourth executive cited in this story noted that referral traffic from Facebook overall has been in decline since the end of the 2020 U.S. election.
“I put Facebook in the category of, ‘This doesn’t really matter,’” said a senior executive at one publisher Facebook is paying to participate in Facebook News. “They’re not how we’re building our business.
“Our Facebook referrals have been going down for two years,” that source added. “They’re throwing this money around now, but you look at the P&L and go, ‘That’s probably not going to be there next year.’”
Publisher skepticism aside, Facebook continues to expand Facebook News. The platform announced on March 1 that it would launch in Germany in May, with more than 100 publishers already committed to participating. Back in December, Facebook announced it would launch News in the U.K.
For most of its first year, it was difficult for publishers to care much about Facebook News because it was impossible to detect how much referral traffic it was driving.
Given the traction that publishers are beginning to see, many expressed hope that they might one day be able to think about the Facebook News audience as a stable, distinct bloc that could be approached differently from the rest of the platform’s users.
But after years of surprises, pivots and changes in focus, those same sources all stressed that it was too early to change their strategies based on Facebook News. Other sources — Digiday spoke to sources at eight different publishers participating in Facebook News for this story — added that it was too early to start thinking of the Facebook News audience as a distinct cohort that could be approached on its own.
One even expressed skepticism that Facebook would have enough people in it.
“Who the hell wants a Facebook news user as a subscriber?” a sixth source said. “The people who gets their news from Facebook are the same people who think the pandemic is a hoax and think the Holocaust didn’t happen.”
Digiday reporter Kate Kaye contributed reporting.
Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey
Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.
Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.
However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.
On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.
Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal
In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.
In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.
Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws
It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.
Russian social media laws
As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.
Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses
Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.
The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.
With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.
Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.
Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to email@example.com.